I'm guessing the Air Force has never heard of a "Kindle" before

So the Air Force wants to switch its maintenance publications over from a paper format to an electronic format. Makes sense. Keeping the technical library up to date for air operations is a huge, yet absolutely critical, task.

But according to this article, the Air Force is looking at putting the manuals on $3-4000 laptop computers.

E-tools help Air Force toss book out the window – Air Force News | News from Afghanistan & Iraq – Air Force Times.

The Air Force plans to purchase up to 40,000 laptops and convert 65,000 of its technical orders into digital format by fiscal 2012 to make maintenance and operations more efficient.

Ruggedized laptops called e-tools eventually will do away with more than 13 million pages of technical orders. Now, maintainers sometimes lug four or five heavy books of TOs into a C-17 only to discover the pages they need are in the library.

About 30,000 to 40,000 laptops — at a cost of $3,000 to $4,000 each — will be fielded as part of the program, which also includes hiring one computer-support technician for every 100 to 150 laptops. About 28,000 technical orders have been converted to digital format so far, said Paul Lyons, a logistics systems planner at Air Force Materiel Command.

Dude? Buy each wrench bender a Kindle (or similar e-reader) for about $200 a piece. Have them synched daily from a master library at the squadron level. and you’ll save a ton of money. The reader’s are small and light enough that the airmen can carry them with  them up on maintenance stands, and cheap enough that dropping and busting one is not a federal case.

Heck, the Army is looking at issuing every soldier a smart phone. Maybe that’s an approach the Air Force might consider.


11 thoughts on “I'm guessing the Air Force has never heard of a "Kindle" before”

  1. Or the $7,000 coffee maker?
    I work as a civilian employee of the Air Force. We are now supposed to use the E tools. They are difficult. One has to connect to the internet and log on first. Then they have a habit of not letting us back on when we pull out our Complete Access Card. It would be simpler to go the Kindle or what ever reader route, I would think. But at my age I am still dependent on regular TOs.

  2. There is likely more to the story (requirements/functionality) than that provided in the brief article. The Kindles would be fine for presentation of text and some graphics but would be unsuitable for many other uses, typically achieved via Panasonic Toughbooks (or such). Lots of hardware/software studies have been done around the world for industry and defense use of technical data in the hands of maintenance personnel. As you know, trying to view parts lists, illustrated parts breakdowns, system schematics and the like wouldn’t be appropriate on a Kindle. Further, several USAF platforms are using Interactive Electronic Technical Manuals (e.g. C-130, F-15) which require the laptop for software, memory, CPU power, etc. Laptops in the hands of maintainers requires ruggedization, which drives up cost. It’s not required for every maintainer and optimally, a mix of the right hardware for the tasks (cheap here, expensive there) might be good, but then there’s different hardware configurations to support (config mgmt, costs, etc.).

    Many platforms in naval aviation are doing the same thing; digitizing pubs and fielding them on ruggedized laptops called Portable Electronic Maintenance Aids (PEMAs). Paper pubs are replaced on the flightline, flight decks, and workshops by laptops with pubs in .pdf version. The costs of print, distribution and labor to update change pages are significantly reduced, the time to refresh to newer versions is increased, and the laptops hold up pretty well, refreshed periodically as part of the procurement plan.

    So yeah, a Kindle or something else might sound right at first blush, but whether it’s a Bradley, a helo, a ship or a jet, the world of tech data continues to change and the real story is that the USAF is catching up. It’s an investment in order to reduce sustainment costs throughout the life cycle of the weapon system.

    1. And then there is the variable involved of light conditions. Under the shade at Edwards with the sun at an angle over the barn this time of year. Down right difficult in Transition Trifocals. Yeah. Trifocals. With a touch pad that is minimally responsive. And they are MINIMALLY RESPONSIVE to beat up hands and fingers on a fifty six year old crew chief, Me.
      Then there is my Navy. Not impressed. What happens when the wireless net aboard a Nimitz class bird farm takes a dump? And things on those vessels do that. Been there. Nimitz and George Washington.
      Whiz bang is nice but it has serious limitations in the field and really on the Flight Deck.

  3. bc,

    I’m curious about “As you know, trying to view parts lists, illustrated parts breakdowns, system schematics and the like wouldn’t be appropriate on a Kindle.” If it’s screen size that’s a problem, the latest Kindle DX has a 9.7″ screen. You can easily find Android tablets for around $200 with slightly larger screens. The iPad is around that size, with the 64GB version at $700. What is it that makes these cheaper solutions unacceptable?


    1. Dave, it’s only partially about screen size. In the case of the Kindle it’s more about the representation of the content. The system is required to be used in bright sunlight, complete dark and everything in between. So if a device doesn’t have adequate backlight or display capability to enable the maintainer to discern graphic details its a problem. This is specific to etext readers. Sure, the new (and newer to come) tablets have amazing graphics and fantastic processing power, yet come with other shortcomings for the primary (majority) requirements set. I’ve seen PDAs do a great job for some things, wearable computers and special glasses, ruggedized laptops, and tablets. It’ll probably get sorted out as the technology continues to evolve/unfold, but for now it’s a matter of what’s the optimal hardware/software set to meet the majority of my requirements (non-fragile, CPU/memory power, display, connectivity, etc) available “today”. bc.

    2. bc,

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments on the subject. I actually made the “kindle” recommendation somewhat tongue in cheek. The services are notorious for taking so long to buy what is essentially COTS equipment that it is obsolescent before it is ever in the troops hands. And I can think of a couple of things that a Kindle wouldn’t do well in terms of serving as a tech manual. The search function isn’t what one might like, for instance.

      And I *am* glad to see the Air Force moving to electronic manuals. It is a good idea, and in the long run, should be somewhat cheaper. But putting manuals in .pdf format strikes me as a less than advanced technique.

    3. Thanks for those details, bc. Seeing as I sat at a desk all day, I hadn’t considered all that. The good news is that by the time this first generation of $3000-4000 is due for replacement, there may be e-readers that are cheap and fit the bill as well. I would generally opt for easily replaced equipment, but my perception is that it would mean that Marine ground crews would end up with neither paper nor e-reader manuals (since all of them would be in the pipeline to the Air Force as replacements).

  4. The problem with display hardware these days is they have gone to LCDs. I use a Surveying data collector with an LCD screen and it has backlighting, but I still can’t read the thing in sunlight and have a hard time in many other light conditions. Fortunately, most of the time when you are working on AC there will be shade nearby so you can get there and read without going half a mile to do so.

  5. These units need to meet the mil-spec rugitized requirements. water proof and fuel, oil resisitant and fuel environment compliant. GUI – touch screen, LARGE graphic files so storage capacity is important and battle field capable. So the kindle is great for the office enviornment, but would hold it own in the greasy, oily grimey hands of the technician on the flt line. And it wont withstand a fall from the typical 4-6 feet that the mil-spec typically requires for testing.

    Your Kindle will crack up. That is why we need the $800 Hammers and toilet seats.

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